Eye in the Sky (2007)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2008-04-08
“Eye in the Sky” is the story of the initiation of a young policewoman (Kate Tsui Tsz-Shan) into the Surveillance Unit of the Hong Kong Police. The unit features both high and low tech police work—it uses real-time images from the ubiquitous close circuit cameras and also long, dull stakeouts waiting for something that may never happen. The field side is led by a literally grizzled veteran Capt. Wong. The target is a gang of smash-and-grab jewel thieves led by Shan, a successful criminal who meticulously plans each robbery to the second. Tony Leung Ka-Fai is magnificent as the beleaguered middle manager, facing pressure from his crew who want more money and less risk, and from his Master who is doing hard time in prison and who is being supported by the proceeds from the thefts.

There are two sets of eyes in the sky. One is controlled by the police. It is a combination of cameras, card reader intercepts and telephone bugging put together in the bunker-like unit headquarters which is watched over by the no nonsense “Yes Madam” (Maggie Shaw) and sent to the field units. The other eye belongs to Shan who perches on a rooftop overlooking the scene of the robbery and watching the crew approach from several directions. They all have specific tasks—block the street, distract the police with a call about a phony stabbing, the robbery itself—and should do them on a rigid timetable that Shan has worked out based on police response times, traffic patterns and probably phases of the moon.

This is an exciting, fast paced and credible police drama. While lacking some of the star power and technical resources of “Heat”, the collision of Simon Yam’s cop and Tony Leung’s bad guy has is as tense and shocking with as much impact as the Al Pacino and Robert De Niro behemoth but without the extraneous padding of Michael Mann’s film. “Eye in the Sky” is pure police drama, streamlined and slick, the distillation of cops and robbers that gains momentum as it develops, slowing only for one stunning scene. That scene occurs toward the end of the movie when the rookie cop with the SU code name Piggy, is helpless to intervene when Shan slaughters a uniformed PC who had the bad timing to ask for his ID card while Shan was trying to get from one side of the city to the other after a botched robbery.

The movie begins with a young woman trailing Capt. Wong. He spots her—he is a master, she still a neophyte—in a restaurant, sits at her table and asks why she has been shadowing him. This is a test—he expects to spot the tail but how the recruit acts when under pressure will determine if she has a future with the SU. She passes and is welcomed into the unit where no one uses given names—they all have the names of animals as call signs and refer to each other as such. She thinks that Snow Wolf would be a fine nickname but Capt. Wong sticks her with Piggy. The action is bookended by a scene at the end in which Piggy is trailing Shan. He has been dodging the police while leading a successful criminal enterprise for the past 18 years so when she follows him into a restaurant he notices her and sits at her table, mirroring the opening scene with Capt. Wong. Piggy demonstrates her growing experience and confidence by facing him down. She convinces him that she just happened to be at that place and at that time, and pulls it off by acting the way an attractive young woman might when approached by an older man she doesn’t know. Shan, with much more at stake than Capt. Wong had at the beginning of the movie, isn’t able to shake her story.

Kate Tsui Tsz-Shan is a former Miss Hong Kong with some experience in television. She has a distinctively attractive look. While not yet a not yet a film actor she is expressive enough for Piggy, a role mainly spent watching others. She has a face the camera simply loves.

Lam Suet is can play some of the scariest characters in Hong Kong film and does so again here. His job during the robbery is stay in reserve outside the jewelry store, keeping an eye on things. He is to shoot the first police officer to appear on the scene if the robbers are still in the store. His eyes are completely dead as he walks almost nonchalantly toward a Police Constable who arrives when the robbers spend a few seconds too long in the store. He has his hand on the butt of a pistol when the crew bursts into the street and the getaway works but we know he would have shot the constable with no more thought or feeling than he gave to buying a snack—a remorseless killer.

Tony Leung is all business and almost always under control so when, early on, he snaps it is very impressive. The crew meets on a rooftop after the first robbery, barbecuing chicken and drinking beer. When Brother Shan arrives they all stand respectfully and wait until he has served himself and is seated before they sit down. But there are complaints—when he asks why they spent more than three minutes in the store, jeopardizing the job, an argument erupts with one guy particularly unhappy. He feels that if they are going to face years in prison for armed robbery then they should just smash in with shotguns and to hell with all the planning. Someone else says that confidence men make more money for less risk but it is the first guy who is the problem. Shan solves the problem this time by grabbing the complainer and shoving him against the railing of the roof. He is bent back over the railing with Shan pressing the sharp tines of a barbecue skewer into the soft flesh of his throat. The screen fills with an extreme close-up of Leung’s face—he looks completely demented and ready to not only kill but enjoy doing it. This is both the way he actually feels but is also is simply part of the necessary repertory of the leader of a band of tough criminals. It is a wonderful performance.

Simon Yam also shines. His Capt. Wong is looks like a pushover—Yam wears a strap-on pot belly, walks with a bit of a limp and is often eating. But he is a master tactician on the streets, able to take the bits and pieces of information that are funneled to him from his own staked-out operatives plus the electronic intelligence and decide on the spot how to deploy his forces. He moves them seemingly on a whim but is always able to keep them a step ahead of the target, who remains unaware he is being followed. Capt. Wong keeps himself in the center of the action but always with the overall picture in mind.

There are a few big holes in the plot but there always are in police dramas. They are easy to ignore because the tension stays high and the action hurtles along taking the audience with it. This is a well directed, well shot and masterfully edited movie that is highly recommended.